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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

The Classification of Languages         203

A large proportion of the languages of the world got script from alien
missionaries bent on spreading the use of sacred texts The missionary
who equips a language with its alphabet uses his own judgment to
decide which elements of speech are, or are not, to be treated as separate
words, and his judgment is necessarily prejudiced by the grammatical
framework of his own education If he is a classical scholar, he will
approach the task with a keen eye for similarities between Latin or
Greek and the language whicjh he is learning

The value of the distinction between an isolating type, which shuns
affixation, an agglutinating type which favours a variety of highly
regular affixes, and an amalgamating type which conserves a welter of
irregular ones, lies less in the fact that it draws attention to essential
differences between different languages, than that it emphasizes the
coexistence of processes which play a part in the evolution of one and
the same language Though one of these processes may prevail at a
given moment, the others are never absent A language such as modern
English or modern French exhibits characteristics which are separated
by thousands of years It is like a bus in which the water-diviner sits
next to the trained geologist, and the faith-healer next to the physician.
The vowel-chime of sing, sang, sung^ re-echoes from vaults of tune
before the chanting of the Vedic hymns, while a considerable class of
English verbs such as cast> hurt> put> have shed nearly every trace of the
characteristics which distinguish the Aryan verb as such. In this and
in other ways the grammai of the Anglo-American language is far more
like that of Chinese than that of Latin or Sanskrit
Nobody hesitates to call Chinese isolating and Latin amalgamating^
but neither label attached to French would do justice to it. In the
course of the last thousand years or so, French has moved away from
its flexional origin and has gradually shifted towards isolation without
fully shedding its accretions. French has not gone nearly so far as
English along this path, and Italian has lagged behind French, but
Italian is much easier to learn, because what has happened to the few
surviving flexions of English has happened to the far more elaborate
flexional system of Italian, There has been extensive levelling of the
endings by analogical extension which continually swells the over-
whelming majority of English plurals ending in -$ or English past tense
forms ending in ~ed. To this extent modern Italian has assumed a
legulanty reminiscent of Finnish, while it has also collected a large